On Thursday afternoon, Mayor Roger Skraba declared a local emergency for the City of Ely after a wildfire near Highway 1 began approaching the city limits, posing a threat to health and safety in the area and prompting evacuation orders.
By 5:30 p.m., officials in the area said they were confident they had the upper hand on the fire, and were no longer asking residents to evacuate their homes.
The evacuation order affected a few blocks on the south side of White Street to 5th Avenue and on to Highway 1. It was lifted by Thursday night.
The wildfire near the softball fields was sparked by a downed power line, and it rapidly approached the city. There is less than a mile of distance between the fire's edge and the city's borders.
Ely City Clerk Terry Lowell said the fire came as close as a few hundred yards from city limits and was close to Ely's electrical substation. Power outages were reported in parts of town, including at the local radio station, WELY. A Verizon cell tower was also taken offline by an outage.
Skraba declared the local emergency effective at 3:15 p.m. based on the following findings:
The city's disaster plan has since been evoked.
Jean Goad, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center, said the fire started at about 1:45 p.m. about a mile south of Ely on U.S. Forest Service land.
Fire-engine crews, helicopters and two water-bombing airplanes were trying to douse the flames, which has expanded to an estimated 100 acres.
"They're hitting as hard as they can. There are some evacuations south of town. They are calling in 'dozers and more engines," Goad said. "It's very windy out there."
Residents watched as the water-scooping planes attacked the blaze from the air, flying right over downtown on their routes.
Conditions in the area have been dry, and winds were recorded at gusts of up to 35 miles per hour on Thursday.
St. Louis County Commissioner Mike Forsman, of Ely said the winds had blown the fire to within a quarter mile of the town by mid-afternoon. Many fire engine crews -- including those from Ely, Babbitt, the U.S. Forest Service, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and numerous township volunteer fire departments -- constructed a fire line on the city's southeast side.